Creek stabilization plan meets with uncertainty Union Bridge council worries about who would pay for flood cleanup

March 23, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Two state agencies, a local school and a private organization are set to transform a Little Pipe Creek flood plain into a natural area and wetlands. But the Union Bridge Town Council, which must approve the project, isn't so sure about the plan.

A council majority favors planting trees and reducing erosion on town-owned property south and east of Route 75. But the council may reject the proposal unless members are satisfied that the town won't be stuck with cleanup bills after floods.

The natural area and wetlands are planned as a demonstration project. Glenn G. Page, watershed restoration program director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, says the demonstration would show property owners how small projects can have an effect on the bay.

"This is a small step toward what can happen on a large scale in the Little Pipe Creek watershed," Page said.

A council veto could affect plans at Francis Scott Key High

School, where four teachers are working with students on projects to learn how to evaluate wetlands, measure the creek's health and keep the community informed of plans for the natural area.

Council action awaits a design plan from the state Department of Natural Resources, the lead agency in the project.

No date has been set for presentation of the plan.

Councilman Selby M. Black is the project's strongest opponent. "I'm thinking there shouldn't be any [additional] wetlands in there," he said. His concern centers on loss of town control of the property. For example, he said, state wetlands protection rules might restrict maintenance, such as spraying to control mosquitoes.

The DNR has sponsored community meetings on the project. Jill Reichert, natural resources specialist, said the agencies involved the project want community input from the start, "so it's something they own."

Most council members' concerns center on maintenance costs after the natural area is finished.

Councilwoman Bonnie Hyde favors planting trees to reduce erosion and deterioration of the stream banks. But she sees two potential problems with wetlands and a nature trail: floods followed by the need for "a massive cleanup," and routine maintenance, such as caring for the trees.

"I don't want to see any type of expense that would be a burden on our residents," Hyde said.

Councilman Donald D. Wilson calls the natural area "a real plus for Union Bridge," although he, too, is concerned about restoration after floods.

The 37-acre flood plain was deeded to the town in 1995 by Towson dentist Dr. G. Jackson Phillips, who plans to build 317 houses on adjoining land, a subdivision that would double Union Bridge's current population of 930.

Mayor Perry L. Jones counted eight floods of Little Pipe Creek last year. He said the creek floods an average of four times a year.

Jones, who owns a service station that has been flooded, doesn't believe the town can get volunteers to restore the natural area after the creek overflows. "Have you ever mucked up after a flood?" he asked.

Page said volunteers are part of the answer. When community members feel they are stakeholders in the project, they are more likely to help maintain it, he said.

The Maryland Conservation Corps, which provides environment-related jobs for young people, would be available for post-flooding cleanup, Page said.

DNR plans construction work this spring to alter the creek banks and expand existing wetlands south of the creek, Reichert said. Planting is scheduled in spring 1998.

The planned natural area has few neighbors. David Stonesifer, who lives across Route 75, favors the project but objected to a now-discarded plan to put more wetlands on the north side of the creek.

"We just didn't want the [mosquito] breeding ground right in our back yard," he said.

Reichert said the project won't add mosquitoes to the existing population and may eventually attract mosquito-eating birds.

Maryland Midland Railway Co. property adjoins the planned natural area on the south. Company President Paul D. Denton said he had no objection to the project, "as long as it doesn't impact our property."

Supporters had hoped to get a $25,000 State Highway Administration grant to cover construction, but the money went to projects in Western Maryland.

The SHA will review the project again in April, Reichert said.

Grants totaling $245,000 from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the federal Environmental Protection Agency will cover other construction costs.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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